It was the announcement the world of motorcycle racing dreaded, even though everyone knew it was coming sooner or later. Still, when revealed, it hit like a ton of bricks.
Valentino Rossi, the nine-time world champion, oficially announced his retirement from racing following the Nov. 14 season finale in Spain. Dorna, the promoter of MotoGP, now faces the unenviable task of moving forward sans the most popular racer in the history of the series.
Rossi, 42, has been part of the Motorcycle Grand Prix scene for 25 years. The beloved Italian established a legend that comes along only once every couple of generations. Nine world titles (seven in the premier class), 115 wins and 235 podiums, and being the only competitor in history to win titles in the 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and MotoGP categories, mean Rossi’s name will forever be enshrined in the history books.
Perhaps even more important than his jaw-dropping racing credentials is Rossi’s unique style and charisma, along with his obvious love of his profession and for his legion of fans, all of which have made the Italian something more than a world-class racer.
The “Doctor” has truly become an icon for the ages.
Many pundits speculated that the most logical thing for Rossi to do would be to announce his retirement prior to next season and race next year so he would have a full season’s going- away celebration.
But several things happened that perhaps moved up the announcement to this season. First, he is having a very un-Valentino-like season, where he has rarely scored inside the top 10. With four rounds remaining in the 2021 season, the Petronas Yamaha SRT rider was ranked 21st in the MotoGP standings. Rossi also announced late this summer that he and his fiancée Francesca Novello are expecting a baby girl.
Rossi acknowledged his decision to retire was not made until late in the season.
“I said I would make a decision for next year after the summer break and I decided to stop at the end of the season,” Rossi said at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on Aug.5. “Unfortunately, this will be my last half season as a MotoGP rider. And it’s difficult, it’s a very sad moment because it’s difficult to say it and know that next year I will not race with a motorcycle. I’ve done that for I think more or less 30 years. Next year, my life will change. But it was great, I’ve enjoyed it very much, it’s been a long, long journey and it was really fun. It’s 25, 26 years in the world championship, so it was great. And I had unforgettable moments with all my guys, the guys who work for me, so … I don’t have a lot to say! Just this.
“I had a very long career and fortunately I won a lot of races, but I have some moments and victories that are unforgettable. Pure joy. Some things where I laughed for a week and after 10 days I’d still be laughing, wonder why and remember the race,” Rossi added. “It’s difficult, yes. A difficult decision, but you need to understand … I think in the end in sport, the results make the difference. So at the end I think it’s the right way.
“It’s difficult because I had the chance to race for my team in MotoGP, together with my brother, something that I would like. But it’s OK like this … I think it will be more difficult when we arrive at the last race, but for now it’s just telling everyone about my decision. I can’t complain about my career.”
Rossi’s father, Graziano Rossi, was a Motorcycle Grand Prix racer of the late 1970s and early ’80s and was a race winner in the 250cc class. As a youth, Valentino began his career as a go-kart racer. He did well enough in karting that putting him on a path to Formula 1 was considered, but the bottom line was his parents did not have the kind of wealth it takes to foster a promising racer to that level in auto racing.
So he began racing mini-bikes and progressed through the ranks until becoming Italian 125cc national champion in 1995.
In 1996, at the age of 17, Rossi launched his Grand Prix career, racing for the Scuderia AGV Aprilia squad in the 125cc class. His talent was obvious from the start. In his rookie season, he won his first GP at the Brno Circuit in the Czech Republic. His sophomore season (1997) was nothing short of stunning. Racing for Nastro Azzurro Aprilia, Rossi won 11 125cc Grand Prix races en route to his first world championship. He immediately graduated to the 250cc ranks and won that title in his second year. He debuted in the premier class in 2000.
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